UNITED NATIONS (CN) – An afternoon temperature of 88 degrees – a full 16 degrees hotter than the historical average for Sept. 23 – set a fitting stage Monday for the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, where world leaders sounded the alarm for climate crisis.
Per instructions from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the climate summit, which helped kick off the UN General Assembly this week, was supposed to center around actions, not words. Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg reminded the assembled world leaders of that order with a scathing, emotional speech Monday morning that went viral almost immediately.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,” she said. “Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you!”
The 16-year-old appeared close to tears.
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear,” she said. “How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
Thunberg and other youth also sued the UN Monday over inaction on climate.
Despite Guterres’ demand that countries come with effective, workable plans to save the planet and meet or exceed the goals they set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, world leaders spent precious minutes of talking time on platitudes and restating the climate crisis in their own words.
But they also brought numbers and updates, and many pledged to accelerate their goals from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
This agreement committed countries to substantially reduce their global greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of limiting the global yearly temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Each country set its own goals and is expected to make ever more ambitious plans.
“We are in a deep climate hole, and to get out, we must first stop digging,” said Guterres Monday morning to applause.
He called for a global transformation of financing and a new model of development.
The U.S. is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. But in 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull the nation out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Though present at UN headquarters Monday, Trump skipped the climate panels, instead booking a separate conference room to host a meeting about religious freedom with Vice-President Mike Pence.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg took a jab at Trump in his morning panel.
“Hopefully our discussions here will be useful for you when you formulate climate policy,” he said to laughter and applause.
In the absence of federal commitments, U.S. states have made their own. Maine Gov. Janet Mills spoke Monday on behalf of her state, saying that by executive order, Maine will be carbon-neutral by 2045.
Leaders emphasized Monday the chasm in resources between developed nations like Germany and less-developed ones, like Bangladesh.
The Green Climate Fund, established as part of the 2010 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is intended to help developing countries respond to climate change. Norway recommitted Monday to double its pledges to the fund, while Germany restated its commitment to $1.5 billion. But without naming names, Ismaël Omar Guelleh, president of Djibouti, called out those who hadn’t kept their Paris promises or honored Green Climate Fund pledges.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley issued a powerful statement about this inequality, and warned of the dangers if it is not addressed, such as mass migration by climate refugees.
Mottley pledged to close all coal power plants by 2020 and committed to planting more than a million trees, but noted that electric buses cost almost double what diesel buses cost.
Though there was broad agreement at both Saturday’s youth summit and on Monday that indigenous people have always led the way in protecting the earth, they were not particularly well-represented in Monday’s main stage panels.
Speaking as the “indigenous peoples’ representative,” Tuntiak Katan called for sharing of information and inclusion of indigenous people in all climate action.
“There’s no time left,” he said. “We must make a pact for life and for our future.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed concern about the future of his peninsula, including the ancient monuments Greece stewards.
Nearly half of the atmosphere’s extra human-produced carbon dioxide was produced after the beginning of the 1990s, when climate science was robust enough to warn us what was coming, he said. He aims to close all of Greece’s lignite “brown coal” power plants by 2028 and ban single-use plastics countrywide by 2021.
American billionaire Bill Gates was on hand to announce a new initiative to help vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change, specifically small farmers.
In all, 77 countries committed to net-zero carbon emissions in 2050, Guterres said at the conclusion of the summit, adding that much more action is needed.
“The world is waking up,” he said.